The story for the 2012 Washington Redskins this season has been about second halves. Whether it refers to the season or individual games, the team has found a way to get it done in the second half. The first half of the season the team started 3-6. The second half of the season, after a bye week, the team’s record is 5-0. The first New York Giant game ended with a last second Giant score and a defeat. The second half of the Baltimore Ravens and Giants victories during this winning streak saw the defense bend but not break.
The first half of the season had the head coach talking about evaluating players and seemed destined to end with no playoff opportunity. The second half of the season has the Redskins now at 8-6 and tied for first place in the NFC East and in control of their own playoff destiny.
A critical play late in the Cleveland Brown’s game typified this run of second half good fortune. With the score 31-21, and the Redskins driving into scoring position, they were faced with a critical third down and eight. On the next play, a pass completion to Santana Moss, resulted in a fumble but Pierre Garcon recovered the ball giving Washington a first and goal with 5:26 to play in the game.
On the next play, rookie sensation Alfred Morris closed out the game with an eight-yard touchdown run giving Washington a 38-21 victory over the Cleveland Browns and a five-game winning streak.
This was a huge play in the game because the Browns (5-9) had just scored and momentum going their way. The Redskins were driving to answer back and the fumble recovery and score took all of the fight out of the Browns. Cleveland later failed to convert on a critical fourth down and the Redskins were able to kneel down just short of the goal line and walk away with the victory.
The second half of the game also became the breakout moment for rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins, who was making his first NFL start. He was replacing the injured Robert Griffin III, who sprained his right knee in the overtime victory against the Ravens. Cousins had prepared for the Browns game by leading the team to a late game tying touchdown and two-point conversion at the end of the Baltimore victory.
The fourth-round pick from Michigan State got off to a shaky start, beginning the game 0-3 with an interception that led to a Cleveland touchdown. He settled down enough to complete a 54-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Hankerson over three defenders with 2:16 to play in the first quarter, which tied the score at 7-7 and made up for the interception. The first half ended with the Browns leading 14-10.
In the second half, Cousins and the offense found their rhythm. The Redskins scored two touchdowns in the third quarter and took a 24-14 lead. Cousins was 8-11 passing in the quarter, including a two-yard TD pass to Hankerson, who finished the game with two catches for 56 yards and two scores and had his own breakout game. Morris, who finished with 87 yards and two touchdowns, scored from three yards out to finish the Redskins scoring in the third quarter. Morris had his streak of 100-yard rushing games end at three. The Redskins time of possession was 9:02 compared to the Browns who only had the ball for about six minutes during the third quarter.
The fourth quarter began with Cousins leading the team to another touchdown and 21 straight points during the second half. Cousins finished the game 26-37 for 329 yards and two touchdowns. The Redskins also finished the game four for five in the Red Zone and seven for 15 on third down. Cousins ended the game with an impressive 104.4 passer rating while justifying why Washington has had him active for games ahead of veteran Rex Grossman. After a London Fletcher interception gave the ball back to Washington, Cousins led the team on a 10-play 67-yard drive which ended with Evan Royster plowing in from the four-yard line, giving the Redskins a commanding 31-14 lead.
The Browns did wake up and fight back with a 69-yard touchdown strike closing the lead to 31-21with 10 plus minutes to play. Fellow rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden finished the game 21-35 for 244 yards and a touchdown for the Browns, but his two second half interceptions helped ignite Washington’s second half offensive explosion.
Right after the quick touchdown pass from Weeden and a glimmer of hope for the Browns, the Redskins got the ball and the second half of the season to bounce their way with the Garcon fumble recovery and Morris touchdown. That score ended any Cleveland threat of disrupting a second half comeback by Washington that has them on the brink of winning the division and making the playoffs. All Washington has to do now is finish the deal with victories over the Philadelphia Eagles (4-10) and the Dallas Cowboys (8-6) who they already beat on Thanksgiving Day.